1. Introduction

The time has come, the Warlus said, To talk of many things ;

Of shoes—and ships —and sealing-wax— And cabbages and kings ;

And why the sea is boiling hot And whether pigs have wings.


Essay, as a literary form, has a chequered career. Bacon, the 16th century essayist, considered essay nothing more than random reflections. In the hands of Charles Lamb, it became biographical and personal. Today it has been defined as “a short disquisition on some subject of literature, philosophy or common life but without the exact method of a systematic treatise”. The word however is applied to writing that go beyond this definition.

Both in matter and in manner the Essay is multifarious. The term includes Bacon’s collections of detached thoughts, the Taller and Spectator of Steels and Addison, Johnson’s moralizing in The Rambler, Goldsmith’s Citizen of the World, Lamb’s self revelations in The Essays of Elia, Hazlitt’s critical and political writings, reviews of Macaulay, Carlyle and others.

In competitive examinations argumentative essay or correctly speaking problem essays are set. The main purpose is to judge the candidate’s ability to present his point of view cogently, logically and impressively. Obviously it involves structural organization, scholarly presentation and comprehensive understanding of the topic. We should study Essay from the point of view of : (0 Subject matter ; Hi) Style.

2. Subject Matter


Structurally speaking the subject matter of an essay is divided into five parts (/) Beginning (/’/) Rising curve ; (Hi) Climax ; (iv) Fall­ing curve ; and (v) Ending. These stages of the development of essay are discussed below :

3. Beginning

We can begin an essay in various ways. We will examine all the types of the beginnings mentioned above after laying down some norms for a good beginning. Firstly beginning should be striking and relevant. By striking we mean that it should arrest the atten­tion of the reader and induce him into reading it. Relevant means that the beginning should not be remotely connected with the slant of the topic. Secondly, it should be short.

Some writers make the introduction to swallow the subject and the piece of composition be­comes imbalanced. In fact beginning and ending should not consti­tute more than one-third of the total length of the essay About the short beginning Dr. Blair has correctly said : “Nothing can be more absurd than to erect a very great portico before a small building”.


A general statement. This type of introduction gives a large perspective before bringing the reader to the particular. By enlarging the scope of the topic the writer is able to impress the reader. But the generation should be materially correct and closely allied to the topic. Moreover it should be connected with the slant of the topic. For example, Carlyle begins his Essay on Burns with a general state­ment—

“In the modern arrangement of the society it is no uncommon thing that a man of genius must, like Butler “ask for bread and receive a stone” ; for inspite of our grand maxim of supply and demand it is by no means the highest excellence that men are most forward to recognize. The inventor of spinning jenny is pretty sure of his reward in his own day, but the writer of a true poem like the apostle of a true religion is nearly as sure of the contrary.

We do not know whether it is not an aggravation of the injustice that is a posthumous retribution Robert Burns, in the course of Nature, might yet have been living ; but his short life was in toil and penury ; and he died in the prime of his manhood miserable and neglected ; and yet already a brave mausoleum shines over his dust and more than one splendid monument has been reared in other place to his fame the street where he languished in poverty is called by his name ; the highest personages in our literature have been proud to appear as his commentators and admirers ; and here is the sixth narra­tive of his life that has been given to the world”.

4. Clearly the general statement is so appropriate that it applies to the life or Burns closely.


A quotation regarding the Subject. This type of intro­duction helps the student to take off but if the quotation is irrelevant the opening seems to be a forced one. Sometime, one has the temp­tation to give a quotation for its own sake ; this is a meaningless show of learning. Hazlitt begins the essay The Fight” with a quota­tion :

“The fight, the fight’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”. Where there’s a will, there’s a way—I said to myself, as I walked down chancery lane about half past six on Monday the 10th December to enquire at Jack Randall’s where the fight the next day was to be ; and I found “the proverb” nothing “musty” in the present instance. I was determined to see this fight, come what would and see it I did, in great style”.

An anecdote or fable. This type of beginning makes the subject a little lighter and sometimes interesting also. If the fable becomes too long the subject is lost sight of. Moreover anecdote should be interesting and arresting. Richard Steele begins his essay On Flattery with an anecdote—

“An old acquaintance, who met me this morning seemed over­joyed and told me I looked as well as had known me do these forty years : ‘but continued he not quite the main you were when we visited together at Lady Brightly’s. Oh ! Issac those days are over. Do you think there are any such fine creatures now living as we then conversed with ?’ He went on with a thousand ; incoherent circumstances which in his imagination must need please me ; but they had quite the contrary effect. The flattery with which he began telling me how well I wrote was not disagreeable “.


5. Note in the above quoted paragraph the natural transition from the anecdote to the subject.

Giving conclusion in the beginning. This type of intro­duction gives clear idea of the writer’s point of view, it gives the guiding thought, which makes the reader to explore the various ramifications of the writer’s thoughts. But this beginning is fraught with one serious difficulty, i.e., the connection which must be estab­lished between the first paragraph and the second paragraph. It may make the essay uninteresting. But great writers can exploit it effec­tively, for example, L.A.G. Strong begins his essay Reading for Pleasures with concluding lines :

“To my mind the only sensible reason for reading anything is because we enjoy it or hope enjoy it. Of course pleasure covers a variety of feelings and shades of feeling. But it is my stron­gest belief about reading that one should read only what one likes and because one likes it. I am talking, of course, of our private reading when we are studying special subjects or work­ing for examination, we obviously have to read a good deal that we should not choose to read in other circumstances”.

Giving a paragraph of climax. This can prove to be very effective beginning if handled properly. It can arrest the attention and force it upon the very pith of the topic but in the hands of an ameteur the second paragraph of such an essay may become unim­pressive and nerveless. In fact climax is somewhat emotionally charged and exposition is not so and it becomes difficult to maintain the tempo. For example, Oliver Goldsmith begins his essay A. City by Night, thus—


“‘The clock just struck two, the expiring taper rises and sinks in the sockets, the watchman forgets the hour in slumber, the laborious and the happy are at rest and nothing wakes but meditation, guilt, rivalry and despair. The drunkard once more fills the destroying bowel, the robber, walks his mid­night round and the suicides lifts his guilty arm against his own sacred person”.

Conversational beginning. It is very difficult to handle this type of beginning. There is danger of making conversation sterile, in effective and inappropriate. Charles Lamb begins his essyy All Fool’s Day, thus—

“The compliments of the reasons to my worthy masters and a merry first of April to us all.

Many happy returns of this day to you—and you—and you, Sir—may never frown, nor put a long face upon the matter. Do not we know one another ? What need of economy among friends ? We have all a touch of that some—you understand me—a speak of motley. Beshrew the man who on such a day as this the general festival should affect to stand aloof. I am none of those sneakers ,”

Best type of beginning. No doubt it is very difficult as well as unwise to lay down any particular type of beginning for all types of topics still some general principles can definitely be laid down.

In the introductory paragraph the slant of the topic must be related with the field of study with which the topic deals. What is meant by the slant of the topic ? Slant means the bias which a a particular word or phrase gives to the topic. It is the framework within which the writer must limit his thinking and investigations. Siant also means the predominant idea that must emerge out of the discussion. For example, to begin with very simple topic, there is a fundamental difference between the two topics “waiting for bus” and “waiting for a bus in summer”. In the second topic the word ‘summer’ determines the scope of the essay and the framework of discussion.

Similarly “Non-alignment Policy of India” and “Re­assessment of the Non-alignment Policy of India” are different with regard to their slant. In the case of ‘reassessment’ no definition no historical background of the topic are needed. The topic demands that only the success of failure of this policy is to be given. Within these limitations historical aspect can be studied. So first of all slant of the topic should be discovered. Then relate it with politi­cal, economic, historical, or sociological —the field with which the topic deals.

6. Rising Action

The exposition brings the reader to the threshold of the topic. It is rising action which enlarges the area of discussion. The various- strands in which the topic ramifies itself are touched. At this stage there is a great temptation on the part of the writer to stray away from the topic and become irrelevant. But fancy should not be unchartered. It should be controlled by logic and reason. For example, if we are writing the “Value of propaganda in modern life” as an essay and we give something about the effectiveness of propaganda in the exposition. We elaborate its significance in social, economic, political and other fields of human activity in the rising, action. Rising action of the essay always gives breadth and dimen­sions to the topic in hand.

7. Climax

This constitutes the most important portion in the essay ; rather it is the back bone and the main prop of the writers’ point of view. It should be devoted three-fourth of the total length of the essay. It is here that the various arguments are given to advocate one’s own point of view. Obviously, the dominant idea in the climax should be to bring out the slant of the topic clearly. If the writer tries to accept a qualified version of the topic, he should bring it out clearly in the climax.

The presentation of the matter in the climax should always be forceful because it is here that the writer tries to convince the reader, it is here that he applies all the tricks of persuasion. He gives facts, he supports his point of view by bringing the customary thought, he quotes the authority and he will try to give information to the reader.

In the case of problem essays, the jugglery of words cannot help the writer. He will have to be argumentative. This does not mean that he should adopt the cold, logical and unprovocative language to advocate his point of view. Rhetorical language can comparatively be more persuasive than any other type of language. The climax of the essay should always be handled with care be­cause in addition to giving the point of view of the writer it also serves as the bridge between the exposition and the ending.

8. The Falling

In the falling action in the essay the writer will try to pick up all the threads which he has spread in the different directions. This seems to be quite difficult task because in this process there is a great danger that he may start repeating the ideas which he has given earlier. It should be a clever handling and the reader should feel that he is coming to a befitting close of the topic. In the falling action the writer should try to make the reader to feel the resonance of his feeling. In the climax he persuades the readers. In the fall­ing action, the writer confirms the conviction. At the stage the writer stands at surer ground and he can definitely worm into the thinking of the reader in order to develop intellectual conviction in him. At this stage no twist should be given to the topic because that would mean illogical development of the thought content.

The reader while reading these paragraphs develops a mood of accept- ancy because climax has always brought a suspension of the activity of the sceptical mind. If the essay abruptly comes to close after the climax, the reader will get a sense of shock and his imagination will remain the midst of these very arguments which have been given in the climax.

9. Ending

The ending of the essay is to give the sense of the finality to the process of thinking which has been set at work right from the opening lines. The ending should rivet the attention of the reader on a particular point of view which has been emerging out of each argument and which in its turn had been giving definite contours to the argument. If the ending leaves the problem unsolved it shows that the writer does not have any constructive thinking. Ending is meant to clinch the issue and the writer can do it only if he logically brings the reader to that very point of view. That is why ending of an essay should cover at least one paragraph.

Here also some of the writers may just like to give a summary of all the observations but this type of ending is martistic and quite lifeless. The transition of the climax to the ending should be according to the mood of the essay established from the beginning or according to the trend which can be seen in the manner, topic is argued out. The various writers have given various types of ending.

10. Presentation of the Matter

Essay in no case can be considered just a collection of fact symmetrically arranged. Facts must be given some life and they should be so organized as to cohere themselves into an organic unity which gives them life, personality and identity though in relation to the topic itself. Facts and ideas are evocative and they can disturb the reader emotionally and intellectually. Out of this disturbance is born convictions, belief and also thinking Secondly, it is the presenta­tion of subject matter which can penetrate into the very citadel of the preconceived notion of the readers. It is through presentation that the main purpose of the writer is realized—the reader is disarmed and subscribes to his point of view. That is why in the presentation of material some norms are to be kept in mind.

11. Logical presentation

The essay as a whole and the argu­ments individually should be logical. Arguments given by the writer should be such as not to contradict his own point of view. Sometimes we do it unconsciously. Suppose we are discussing some­thing about the freedom of press in India and we give an argument that during emergency the press cannot publish certain news which are not in the larger interest of the society and if we say that Indian Press has been gagged or stifled and so it has lost its independence we would be contradicting ourselves.

We should try to argue by saying that it is completely wrong to think that emergency has killed the freedom of press. Sometimes while giving the other’s point of view we give an impression to the reader that the opponent’s point of view is the writer’s view but many a time this is not so. The writer could always present the individual argument in a manner that his personal point of view emerges out of it clearly.

Another type of illogicality may creep in, when the writer forgets one or two points and he wants to introduce them some­where. Such interpolation will not only do a lot of harm to the unity and symmetry but sometimes it makes the whole essay contra­dictory. Many a time the writer forgets his line of thinking, moves in another direction and makes his essay illogical.

12. Impressiveness

The Impressiveness of the essay depends upon the conception of the material though the manner of presentation is equally important. The ideas in the mind of an ordinary person and a scholar might be the same ; it is only the way in which the writer expresses himself that the beauty of the presentation is achieved. It is not necessary that the writer may conceive the idea only in relation to certain comparisons or contrasts but he should try to corelate with different branches of knowledge.

It should be properly sifted out of dross and should be properly chiseled in order to make impressive for the reader. In short the matter should be conceived and presented in a scholarly manner. The presentation should not smack of ordinariness, vulgarity or something common place, for example, Charles Lamb in the essay “Poor Relation” simply wants to say that a poor relative is generally not liked by the rich relation. So he says :

“A poor relation is the most irrelevant thing in nature, a piece of impertinent correspondence, an odious approxi­mation “

Similarly, if we examine a few lines from one of the writings of Radhakrishnan, we can easily discover tint how impressive is the presentation of the matter. While telling us about scientific attitude he says :

A scientific attitude requires us to be open-minded in regard to different facts and values. Man’s awareness to himself as living in a world which is at once terrifying and fascinating, his feeling of awe, reverence, humility and joy are basic experiences which studies. They are derived from a sense of the holy, but we cannot take a part of experience and make it the whole. Nor can we mix scientific description of facts with speculative hypothesis.”

The words are not at all difficult but every word contributes to the philosophic idea which is embedded in the paragraph itself. There is no particular method of making the facts impressive except when the writer tries to write one and the same essay many a time in the initial stages with a deliberate effort to improve upon presenta­tion.

Another method which can be adopted profitably is that some fine phrases and sentences may be remembered by the students and used in English essays or pieces of compositions. For example, some of the phrases collected from the different writers are—”Processed the innumerable diversities”, “Opposition is not rebellion and dis­sent is not reason”, “may assume global dimensions”, “A phantom of mystery”.

13. Coherence

The various arguments in the essay should be so arranged as to give the impression of complete wholeness. Impres­sion of completing wholeness means the arguments must be closely related with the preceding and the following arguments. The dis­connection should be carefully avoided. Even in the case of bio­graphy, there should be profundity duty and that depends upon proper organization.

Coherence established with the help of connections is not a good coherence. The various sentences should be organized in a manner that either the accent on the particular portion of the sentence may be carried to the next sentence or it should be thematically so organized that the following sentence picks up the main idea. The sentence generally gives a thrust to the following sentence. When the idea seems to be rolling down like a ball on show, of course, there should be no obstruction and the pace of the flow of the ideas should be increased as the essay proceeds. Coherence among sentences can also be established with the help of the words of reference ; it is also achieved by changing the emphasis in the sentences.

There should be organic connections among the paragraphs also. It is generally believed that the topic point of each paragraph should be closely connected with the topic point of the following paragraph or the writer cleverly enough refers to the point which he is going to take up in the next paragraph here or there. The essay as a whole is in the form of deductive reasoning which leads the writer from one idea to another till it comes to a close. All the ideas in the whole of the essay should have a bearing upon the following one and the main idea of each paragraph should illustrate the slant of the topic.

14. Balance and proportion

Lack of proportion is a serious defect in the essay as it might be in the human body. A person with a protruding nose and long ear and hanging jaw may not be liked because the sight is grotesque and forbidding nature gives nothing in excess, i.e., what we should bear in mind while creating an art whether harmony, balance, symmetry are greatly conducive to beauty which according to the Greek way of thinking was identical with truth and goodness.

By proportion and balance we mean that different portions of the essay should be given equitable treatment as has already been pointed out that the climax of the essay should’ cover three-fourth of the total length of the essay. That is why some of the writers recommend that there should be a proper planning in the mind of the writer before he starts writing the various arguments which should be balanced. That means if the argument is not very important one, it should not be unnecessarily elaborated.

15. Unity

One must always keep an eye on the subject and its pivot and the entire composition should revolve round it and digres­sion should be avoided. The importance of relevancy cannot be strongly stressed because one frequently comes across essays in which disproportionate space is devoted to unnecessary and redundant material. Unity also means that the total impression of the essay should be one and it should not give an impression of scattered view and ill-organized thought. Essay should not reduce itself to just a number of ideas stuffed in a shapeless bag. Every argument should corelate itself with the main argument running throughout the essay.

16. Organization of the material

The writer should not waste the most powerful arrow of his quiver in the first paragraph. At the junior stage the students are told that the first paragraph should be the most impressive paragraph whereas the rest of the essay may be just a slip-shod treatment. It is a wrong notion. The essay, in fact, should unfold itself by stages and the most important argument should be reserved for the climax of the essay. The opening para­graph are just introductory and can be compared to a lift which brings us to the first floor where our imagination is higher enough to take its flight. So the first paragraph is just an introductory one bringing us to the pith of the essay.

17. Contemporariness of the matter

One of the most impor­tant purposes of the examiner is to see the capability of the student of applying the theoretical knowledge to the practical purposes. The students must have critical sense of judgment as well as material enough to have the power of evaluation. Naturally enough essay must be afloat in the present circumstances. Historical perspective of the problem may be given, but it should be used as a link argu­ment and not as the main argument.

As far as it is possible illustra­tions from the present day life, present day knowledge and the pre­sent day circumstances should be given. But the illustration should be relevant ; sometimes the students go off the subject in order to refer to some of the current problems. There should be contem­porariness of the subject matter as far as essay is concerned.

18. Critical evaluation

Presentation of the fact in an essay is already up to junior states. Maturity of outlook and scholarly attitude demands that the matter should be critically examined. Some students misunderstand the meaning of critical examination and wrongly think that critical examination means just criticism of the topic. In fact, critical examination stands for not only the study of pros and cons (with a proper and clear emphasis upon the per­sonal line of thinking), but also an attempt to delimit or limit the topic. It means that the writer will have to qualify the implications and connotation of the topic itself.

By introducing these modifica­tions, he sifts the bullion from the dross He establishes the truth and Jays down some limitation for the acceptance of the truth. Critical examination should not be given in the form a categorical statement because that would mean nothing but just an expression of convictions without making an attempt to bring the reader round to his own point of view.

19. Argumentation

In the problem essays the writer should take help of argument and argumentative language. By arguments we simply mean that the writer should come to an inference with the help of premises and premises may themselves be based upon the factual data. We take help from the different fields of knowledge like sociology, economics, literature, geography, etc., in order to sub­stantiate our own point of view.

This means that we should follow the method of science in bringing the reader to the conclusions. Whenever we feel that the ideas should be made more impressive we should try to take help of description or even narration. Sometimes the main idea conveyed through narration or description becomes much more impressive than it can be otherwise. For example, Charles Lamb begins his essay entitled A Chapter of Ears thus “I have no ear—mistake me not reader not imagine that I am nature destitute of those extra appendages hanging ornaments ” Clearly a little address to the reader will lure the reader into reading.

20. Use of quotations

Some of the students live under a wrong impression that quotations beautify an essay. In fact in a prose writing quotations serve three purposes—(1) decoration, (2) for Presenting another point of view, and (3) for substantiating our own arguments when we have no arguments to give. Clearly the very function of the quotation demands that it should be crisp and to the Point. Quotations must sum up the idea in a very effective way.

Otherwise also the quotations of the different writers given here and these show the wider horizon of knowledge of the writer. But quotation should be very few. Otherwise also the examiner may ask himself that what the student has thought of himself. Only quota­tions make the essay just the transcription of others view ; it is just accumulation with no valuation. A craze for quotations often clogs your thinking and we are unable to think originally and properly.

21. Language of the Essay

The effectiveness of the essay mostly depends upon the effective­ness of the language which may be employed by the writer. Good language does not mean that the writer should make use of difficult words or complicated sentences. The purpose of writing is not to overawe the reader but to pass on some information in a manner that the reader suspends his disbelief and starts crediting the writer’s point of view with truth. The essays of higher standards are more or less an advocacy of one’s point of view in the most effective type of language. Naturally, the effectiveness of language depends upon various factors-(1) Correct choice of words ; (2) Clear thinking ; (3) Clear expression ; (4) Conciseness ; (5) Prespecuity ; and (6) Impressiveness.

22. Choice of Words

It is needless to say that one word used in its proper connotation and denotation can say a number of words can convey. But sometimes the words may be correct in form and construction yet they may be unintelligible. Either the word itself or the sense given to it may be without the sanction of the present day usage. That is why it is generally recommended that the writer should avoid barbarous words. Barbarism includes archaic and obsolete words ; dialectic, provincial words ; slang, technical terms ; foreign words ; neologisms. It must not be, however, understood that such words are never admissible.

Our subject may demand one of them ; our audience may be such that word may be employed with perfect intelligence and with greater emphasis than any other. The written composition is in fact from time to time is enriched by the adoption of words from one or the other classics. Sometimes a word of currency may have wrong sense attached to it. We must, therefore, avoid malapropism and must carefully discriminate synonyms. Great attention should be paid to the exact meanings of words.

23. Archaic or obsolete words

As a rule avoid the following and similar words and phrases ; albeit, ought, behest, ere, erst, hither, methink, per chance, prithce, trow, etc. Methink, for example, is frequently misunderstood as equivalent of ‘I think’. Many a time sentence is rendered unintelligible, if it contains words in an archaic sense. The novelists make use of these types of words but only when they are writing something about the past.

24. Dialectic words or provincialism

These words are current only in certain areas and these can also be effectively used in dramas, -novels and other writings where local scenery and incidents require them. Examples of dialectic thus used will be found in by Mrs. Gaskel, Irish by Miss Hedgewords and Scottish in R.L. Stevenson’s writings.

25. Americanism

Except in books dealing with America and Americans, it is better not to use ‘guess, calculate, reckon’, in the sense of ‘think or suppose’. Even expressions like skedaddle, just lovely are not to be used.

26. Slang

One kind of slang may be regarded as useful, i.e., the lingo of thieves or gypsies. For example, Dickens had it in ‘Oliver Twist’ or George Borrow in his Lavengro. There are other types of slangs, which are called school’s slangs or university’s slangs. In conversation a little slang may be permissible. In writing it should be restricted to dialogue. Its appearance in writing again and again is a sign of vulgarity. For example, the world ‘nice’ has been used as a slang—”The Irish man was a nice little chap with nice cheerful face.” Some words used as slang are Blooming, Bounder, Bedrock, Cute Chuck, to cut up rough, to run the show, etc. Some of them are just abbreviations and some abbreviations are allowed.

27. Technical words

Technical terms when used loosely beyond its department are sure to become unintelligible or it may even seem to be at the verge of slang. For example, Crescendo and psycholo­gical are blemishes in the sentences. “We had been enjoying our­selves hugely,”. “Crescendo as way went on”. Or “At that psychological movement is he entered.” Other technical words often loosely used are potential, dynamic, transcendental, bunkered, ploughed, etc.

28. Foreign words

The only justification for using the foreign words in English is a lack of a term from some foreign customs and objects. For example, Radhakrishnan makes use of a number of Sanskrit words in the English writings. He uses such words as are more expressive than the English equivalent for those words. But some of the French words have become very popular in English language and can be used. Similarly, some translations of the foreign phrases are also used.

29. Neologism

New discoveries and inventions often demand new words. Newspapers and journalists are very fond of coining words. But some of them should not be used though they become quite current. For example some of the writers coined words like ‘aliveness’ and or ‘thorough alikeness’ but both of them have not been accepted as the part of standard vocabulary.

30. Synonym

The writer should be very particular about synonyms because it is impossible to find two words or more words exactly alike in meaning. For example the synonyms like ‘boldness’, ‘bravery’, ‘valour’, ‘prowess’, ‘daring’, ‘pluck’, ‘gallantry’, ‘audacity’, ‘heroism’ mean courage. But all of them have different shades of meanings. Among ‘boldness’, ‘bravery’ and ‘valour’, the last word is the stronger. ‘Bravery’ and ‘valour’ are used for action which commands admiration. Boldness sometimes suggest a touch of meaning expressed by ‘audacity’. Prowess means an approved action especially involving ‘daring’ that one should be prepared to seek danger and rejoice it. ‘Pluck’ implies anxiety, courage in the face of difficulties ; ‘gallantry’ and ‘heroism’ imply magnanimous self- sacrifice.

31. Malapropism

Mrs. Malaprop was one of the characters in Sheridan’s drama ‘Rivals’. She always misapplied the words in order to deck “her dull chat with hard words.” The word Malaprop is a combination of two words Mai plus Appropriate. One should guard against it properly. She used ‘reprehend’ for ‘apprehend^ ‘oracular’ for ‘vernacular’, ‘derangement’ for ‘arrangement’.